If you’re thinking about visiting Dubrovnik, Croatia’s largest tourist destination and the city credited by Lord Byron as being ‘the Pearl of the Adriatic,’ you’ll most likely come armed with the latest Fodor’s guidebook or a recent review of the top Game of Thrones film site locations that you absolutely cannot miss. You will probably also notice that prices in the city centre and old city, are similar to what you can expect to pay in the tourist capitals of neighbouring European countries, and Dubrovnik is no exception. However, if you’re worried that the price hikes mean you’ll have to go low budget while in Paris, relax, we have you covered. Below we’ve compiled a list of five fun and free things that you can easily do in Dubrovnik while still living large and ensuring your friends back home are every bit as envious as they should be:
King’s Landing - Game of Thrones Filming Locations
When it comes to the GOT franchise, you don’t have to worry. The entire city of Dubrovnik, or “King’s Landing” is an open-air GOT museum and just walking around you are likely to recognize many sites you will likely recall from seasons past. If in doubt we are here to remind you of the Big Three. The most memorable scene in Season 5: Episode 10 entitled ‘Mother’s Mercy’ was noted for the famous “Walk of Shame”, in which Cersei Lannister was forced to walk naked through the streets of King's Landing. Cersei’s walk began at the top of the Jesuit Staircase, an elegant Baroque structure located immediately south of Gundulic Square. The steps lead up to the ‘Uz Jezuite Ulica’ (Uz Jezuite Street), and end at the Jesuit Church of St. Ignatius right next to the Collegium Ragusinum and the Jesuit College. If you can’t find them, just ask the locals for the ‘Spanish Steps’ (Skale Spanjola’ as Croatians call them).The second most recognizable GOT site to see? The narrow strip of beach between Lovrijenac castle and the tower ramparts flanking the left side of Pile Gate. If you look down over the platz-like terrace between the two cafes situated on opposite ends of the square, you will notice that the rock like boulder upon which Lovrijenac castle stands has some rather medieval looking wooden doors built right into it. This is where the Battle of Blackwater Bay (Season 2: Episode 9) took place (the beach is also noted for the scene where Cersei, Tyrion, Joffrey and Tommen saw Myrcella off to Dorne in Season 2: Episode 6).
Game of Thrones filming in Dubrovnik
Finally, the scene where everyone’s beloved bad boy, Oberyon Martell (The Red Viper), finally bit the dust at the hands of The Mountain (Season 5: Episode 8) takes place just outside Dubrovnik at the abandoned Hotel Belvedere (located approx. 2km out of the old town on a steep beach). The hotel was built in the 1980s and destroyed during the Croatian War of Independence. Today it is abandoned and demolished and while you are not allowed to enter the building itself, you can still see the set’s amphitheatre floorvisible from the outside (the only thing that is different is that the Lannister coat-of-arms was replaced after filming with the large checkerboard shield on the Hajduk Split soccer team emblem.
Luza – The ‘Game of Film’ Exhibit
If you still can’t get enough of the Game of Thrones film sites, calm down, we’ve got you covered better than Coppertone on a baby. Located right next to the Sponza Palace, and under the arched gateway of the Bell Tower off of Luza Square, the Dubrovnik Cinema now hosts the ‘Game of Films’ exhibit. Opened in February 2017, the exhibit showcases photographs of the films and series that were shot on location since Game of Thrones transformed the city into King’s Landing. While the exhibit is free, rest assured that the GOT franchise has done for Dubrovnik what Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand - turned the city into a tourism mecca worthy of the moniker, ‘Hollywood of the Adriatic.’
Hollywood on the Adriatic
The exhibit also showcases the other franchise about to make the city a global tourism magnet, Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi, which will open to much hype in December 2017. Another recently shot blockbuster is the Leonardo DiCaprio directed version of Robin Hood starring Jamie Foxx, Jamie Dornan, Taron Egerton and other Hollywood big names rumoured to premiere in 2018.
Fjaka – The Art of Dalmatian Chill
What Hygge is to the Danes, so Fjaka is to the Dalmatians. ‘Fjaka’ (pronounced: ‘Fyaka’) is essentially the zen-like art of doing nothing or engaging in very little but doing it with a flair and panache which predates chill. Fjaka can literally be described as an uber-relaxed form of living. Over the centuries, the people of Dalmatia have perfected the art of Fjaka and taken it to the next level. Thus, whether they are simply strolling about aimlessly (emphasis on ‘slowly’), relaxing in chaises’ or cafes, or sitting with their head back facing the sun, Fjaka is emulated and absorbed by young and old alike. It’s truly a disciplined and inherited way of life in every Dalmatian town, and perhaps nowhere is it better displayed or observed than in Dubrovnik. Please do not for a second mistake Fjaka with laziness, as it’s not even remotely close. Fjaka is actually a psychophysical state of the mind where there is a momentary aspiration to do absolutely nothing. Except the moment never evaporates, and before you know it Fjaka has taken over your day. When this happens and Fjaka engulfs you, do not resist it and try to engage in work, rather slow down the Dalmatian way (‘polako’) and you will notice that any and all desire to engage in unnecessary physical labour of any sort shall pass.
Take it easy you are in Dubrovnik
If you feel bad about doing nothing for hours, simply calm down and Fjaka on, and know that even the well-dressed and sociable engage in Fjaka. Notice the way the women carry themselves and dress, you’d think they had planned that outfit for hours. Not so. They are masters of their own Fjaka domain and you can be too. The best places to engage in Fjaka include the Stradun where you must walk slowly (snail’s pace will do) and stare straight ahead, pretending not to be irritated by the throngs of tourists. Get that gelato, enjoy that cup of espresso, and do it all with the same Fjaka-like-laissez-faire attitude displayed by the locals. Fjaka can also be experienced at any of Dubrovnik’s side streets where you not only lounge about aimlessly for hours on end enjoying coffee after coffee (at a minimal cost, we promise!), but you do it sitting side by side with your bestie while carrying on a silent conversation. Fjaka usually goes hand-in-hand with people watching, but it’s done in a way so that only certain muscles of your neck are used. In this manner, you are exerting minimal energy and conveying a Fjaka-like performance worthy of an Academy Award. Had enough of Stradun and side street Fjaka? Head over to Buza outside the southern city walls, pick a rock, lay back next to the sea, bask in the sun or go for a topless swim. There is no better way to graduate from Fjaka 101 than to don the birthday suit and throw your cares and worries to the Adriatic. If you’ve made it this far you’ve earned the Fjaka black belt and will get a pat on the back from the locals…once they are done Fjaka-ing.
Church Gazing: Off the Beaten Path
Most guide books will tell you that the Church of Saint Blaise (Crkva Svetog Blaza), the Cathedral and the Dominican and Franciscan Monasteries are must see’s, and I am not going to debate that. These four structures are surely among Dubrovnik’s finest and oldest and best of all they are easily to be seen as three of them are located right on the Stradun (the Franciscan Monastery, the Cathedral and the Church of Saint Blaise) while the other (the Dominican Monastery) is next to the Revelin Fortress gate. Dubrovnik is a church and chapel lovers Nirvana, and no matter which street you happen to stumble upon, there is sure to be at least one church, chapel, cloister or religious building located on it or next to it (and not all are Christian either).
The Dubrovnik Cathedral dominates the skyline
While the Church of Saint Blaise (the city’s patron saint who was born an Armenian native) boasts baroque facades and has visitors gasping, die-hard enthusiasts will want to explore and discover others. My favourites include the tiny Chapel of Saint Nicholas located on Prijeko street in the Jewish quarter, Saint Ignatius church which is ornate and majestic and located right atop the Spanish Steps, and the Serbian Orthodox church (‘Crkva Svijeti Blagovijesti’) which is resplendent with stunning Byzantine icons and fantastic acoustics. Be sure not to miss out on the second oldest Jewish synagogue in Europe located on a side alley on Zudioska Street (Jewish Street) right off the Stradun. The Synagogue is located next to a small art gallery with lovely paintings and etchings displaying Jewish life in Dubrovnik as it once was.
Stroll and Window-Shop
Others would tell you to climb Mount Srd (Mount Sergej) which hovers above the city and boasts a fortress built by Napoleonic forces, but I won’t do that as that would involve activity and motion which breaks the cardinal rules embodied in Fjaka (number 3 in this article). Instead, replenish your water bottle in any of Dubrovnik’s perfectly safe public fountains and discover the hawkers and vendors doing a bustling trade at the fruit and vegetable market on Gundulić Square. Every morning Dalmatian locals from the vicinity of Dubrovnik set up their stalls of fresh produce and flowers and throw in traditional cottage craftwork. You can barter, strike up a conversation, or simply admire the statue of the square's namesake, a 17th century Croatian poet named Ivan Gundulić (he’s a great writer and considered something of a Croatian Shakespeare).
Window shopping on the Stradun
The free buck does not stop there however, you can stroll onwards and enjoy endless hours of window shopping on the Stradun (the Croatian version of the Plaka district), on Luza square, or on any of the hundreds of narrow side streets which give Dubrovnik its old-world character. My favourites include the silver and gold filigree shops that line the narrow street called ‘Ulica od Puca’ (Public Street). Here you will find hipster art galleries and jewellery stores, vying with the best in Italian brand name apparel and local Croatian designers. A sure-fire favourite and best of all you never have to actually open your wallet.
By Mirella-Marie Katarina Radman